California enacted a stiff law impacting autographed memorabilia, and it applies to dealers selling such items in or from the state - including those selling on online marketplaces. The law requires dealers to provide a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) at the time of sale - which can be costly, according to online sellers.
An excerpt from the law: "Whenever a dealer, in selling or offering to sell to a consumer a collectible in or from this state, provides a description of that collectible as being autographed, the dealer shall furnish a certificate of authenticity to the consumer at the time of sale." (The law applies to items with a sale price of over $5.)
eBay and its Government Relations team did not respond to our request for information about how California AB 1570 would impact the company and whether it would enforce it on its marketplace. We had also asked if eBay expected there to be a negative impact on sales and what it recommended sellers and dealers do. eBay does have its own policies about certificates of authenticity, as well as guidelines on using authentication and grading services.
Amazon also allows the sale of collectibles on its site (sports and entertainment memorabilia, for example - and signed books, of course). Company spokesperson Erik Fairleigh told EcommerceBytes, "Amazon is not a collectibles dealer within the meaning of this California Civil Code legislation. As with all sellers on Amazon, we require Collectibles sellers to comply with all applicable laws."
Booksellers were extremely concerned about the law since they often host book-signings, according to the American Booksellers Association, which wrote, "In short, the law requires sellers of signed books and artwork to provide the buyer with a certificate of authenticity (COA) for any item sold for $5 or more."
The association said many booksellers had reached out to California Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, author of the new law, and it said she finalized a letter "clarifying that the law does not apply to general bookstores and author signings."
In favor of the bill - actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the original "Star Wars," according to this article in the Los Angeles Daily News.
A reader who read about the new law in the Kovel's newsletter fears the consequences for eBay and Etsy sellers who are unable to exclude buyers from California from purchasing their items.
Even if sellers state "no sales to California addresses" in their listings, they would be hard-pressed to refuse to ship the item since the buyer could open a claim with the marketplace, the reader surmised.
What happens if the California buyer purchases it "and demands you send him the item with the expensive complete COA because you legally have to do so, threatening you with reporting you to the CA Board of Autograph Cops if you don't," the reader wondered.
AbeBooks has been providing a marketplace for booksellers for 20 years. Spokesperson Richard Davies told EcommerceBytes the new law was problematic. "As a general requirement, we require sellers to comply with all applicable regional legislation," pointing out that there are booksellers from many countries selling on the site.
He said AbeBooks is waiting to see how it settles. There are both bookstore sellers and home-based sellers from California selling on AbeBooks.com.
It's problematic, he said, because sellers could be selling autographed books that are several centuries old. And not necessarily acquired directly by the bookseller - the signed books may have been purchased at an estate sale, from another seller, at a bookstore signing, or through a book scout.
AbeBooks even has a special tool for shoppers looking to acquire signed books, on this page.
It's interesting to take a look back at the early days of online selling. The FBI got involved in forged sports memorabilia in the 1990s and early part of the 2000s in its "Foul Ball investigation and Operation Bullpen, described in the FBI archives.
The text of the new AB 1570 legislation can be found on the California Legislature site.
According to an analysis of the bill on the site, "Under existing law, dealers in signed sports memorabilia must furnish a certificate of authenticity to the consumer at time of sale,... This bill would expand those same protections to all forms of signed collectibles, and also clarify that these protections apply to collectibles offered for sale online."
The law goes into effect in January 2017.
Interested in reading more? The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund published this advisory that delves into the issue.
A version of this article appeared in the November 10th issue of EcommerceBytes 411.